Tag: Back Health

Pilates Exercise of the Month: Criss-Cross or Obliques

Purpose: The last of the Stomach Series, this works the external obliques, waistline and powerhouse.

  1. Lie on your back with hands behind your lifted head; elbows wide and your knees bent into
    your chest.
  2. Extend your right leg out long; hovering above the mat. Twist your upper body until the
    right elbow touches left knee. Open the back (left) elbow behind you. Inhale as you lift to twist
    and hold for 3 counts.
  3. Exhale and switch sides, bringing your left elbow to your right knee while extending the
    opposite (left) leg out in front of you. Hold for 3 counts. Keep your upper back and shoulders off
    the mat as you twist from side to side.

Complete 8-10 times. To end bring both knees into chest.


  • Lift and twist from your waist, not from your neck and shoulders.
  • The back elbow never touches the mat. Look at your back elbow as you twist.
  • Anchor your center to the mat so you don’t roll from side to side.
  • Lower your extended leg about 45 degrees…back should not arch off mat.

Note: Avoid twisting exercises such as this if you have suffered a recent back injury.

Visualization: Imagine you have an X on your stomach and you are crossing to each end of the X.

3 Steps to a Stronger Healthier Back

The most common ailment to affect people to today, even more common than headaches, is low back pain. According to the American Chiropractor Association (ACA) as many as 80% of people will suffer from some form of low back pain, either chronic or acute, at some point in their lives. In fact, Americans alone spend nearly 50 billion dollars each year in order to correct this disorder. The good news is that most low back pain can be relieved or dramatically improved reduced following a few simple steps.

One of the most common contributors to low back pain is simply due to lack of strength in the core and lower back. Using a few exercises that can be performed at the gym and some at home can help address this problem:

Back Extension

  • Starting Position: Sit in the machine with the upper back pressed against the back pad. Flex the torso forward and move the body back to align the hips with the axis of the machine. Place the feet on the machine frame or foot supports. Grasp the handles or the sides of the seat.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Keeping the thighs and feet stationary, extend the torso (lean backward). Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso to flex (lean forward) back to the starting position. Keep the upper back firmly pressed against the back pad and the thighs and feet stationary. Maintain a tight grip on the handles or the sides of the seat.

Bent-Over Row

  • Starting Position: Grasp the bar with a closed, pronated (palms down) grip wider than shoulder width. Lift the bar from the floor to a position at the front of the thighs using the first pull phase of the power clean exercise. Adjust the feet to assume a shoulder-width stance with the knees slightly- moderately flexed. Flex the torso forward so that it is slightly above parallel to the floor. Assume a flat-back torso position with the shoulders back and chest out. Focus the eyes a short distance ahead of the feet. Allow the bar to hang with the elbows fully extended. Adjust the position of the knees, hips, and the torso to suspend the weight plates off the floor.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Pull the bar up toward the lower chest or upper abdomen. Keep the elbows pointed away from the sides of the body with the wrists straight. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and the knees in the same flexed position. Touch the bar to the sternum or upper abdomen. At the highest bar position, the elbows should be higher than the torso.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the elbows to slowly extend back to the starting position. Keep the torso rigid, back flat, and knees in the same flexed position. After the set is completed, squat down to return the bar to the floor.

Bent Knee Sit-up

  • Starting position: Assume a supine position (back facing the ground) on the floor or a mat. Flex the knees to bring the heels near the buttocks. Fold the arms across the chest.
  • Backward Movement Phase: Flex the neck to move the chin to the chest. Keeping the feet, buttocks, and lower back flat and stationary on the mat, curl the torso toward the thighs until the upper back is off the mat. Keep the arms folded across the chest.
  • Forward Movement Phase: Allow the torso, then the neck, to uncurl and extend back to the starting position. Keep the feet, buttocks, lower back, and arms in the same position.

Another all too common contributor to lower back pain is due to a lack of flexibility often due to lack of exercise, a job requiring extended period of sitting, and old injuries. Here are a few Stretches to help address these issues:

Stretch #1

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Place your bands on the back of your thighs and pull your legs toward your chest.
  • Pull until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #2

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Keeping your back flat on the floor, rotate your hips to the left, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.
  • Keeping your back flat on the floor, this time rotate your hips to the right, lowering your legs down to the floor until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #3

  • Lie on your stomach.
  • Prop yourself up on your elbows extending your back.
  • Start straightening your elbows, further extending your back.
  • Continue straightening your elbows until a gentle stretch is felt.
  • Hold for 15 seconds.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat 9 more times.

Stretch #4

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Push the small of your back down and into the floor by tightening your lower abdominal muscles.
  • Hold for a count of 10.
  • Return to starting position and repeat 9 more times.

The last step, and arguably the most crucial for a healthier back, is recognizing good and bad posture. Given that many of us work jobs that require extended periods of sitting, this step virtually everyone can improve on. Here is a tip to achieve better posture and potentially have the greatest effect on your lower back health…Lose the Chair! It is no secret that nearly all office chairs are mediocre at best in supporting good posture. With their sleek design and comfortable arm supports, who wouldn’t want to a go about their work day in a lazy boy? Unfortunately office chairs today are simply not built with back health in mind. Although comfortable, these chairs offer little benefit for supporting a strong core. One solution has come with the use of a stability ball or Swiss ball as a replacement for your chair. The added challenge of balance offered by the stability ball means proper spinal alignment is virtually impossible to cheat. Using the ball as a chair, forces the user to break the habit of slouching by positioning the pelvis underneath the core in order to stay balanced. It is recommended, however, that you phase in this chair replacement as this can initially be tiring for the muscles responsible for holding the spine in proper alignment. For more information on exercises, stretches, and other tips on low back health please feel free to contact Will Paton.

Posture at Work and Pain

Often, people suffer from pain while they are working, particularly those who work at a desk all day. This can range from neck pain and headaches to low back pain to cramping hamstrings. Posture plays a vital role in all of these areas of the body. Poor posture will tighten certain muscles, loosen others and cause nerves to over fire, causing pain. If you have pain, look for these signs:

  1. Are your shoulders rounding forward? This is usually a weakness in the external rotators of the shoulder and tightness through the chest. By strengthening the rotator cuff your shoulders will pull back more naturally. You can stretch the chest in a doorway by placing your arms at 90 degree angles and leaning the weight forward. Take a deep breath and allow the stretch to deepen. This stretch should be performed as soon as you get to work. It will help to keep your open for the rest of the day.
  2. Are you tensed in the neck talking on the phone or do you reach your head forward looking at a computer screen? Every so often take a deep breath and sigh out the mouth. This will help calm the mind and relax your body. Also, perform cervical spine stretches while sitting.
    • While looking forward drop the ear towards the shoulder. Take a few deep breaths to deepen the stretch. Perform 3 times on each side
    • Drop the head down, pointing your nose towards one of your armpits. Again, take a few deep breaths. You will feel this one more behind your ears.
    • Turn and rotate the head as if you were trying to look over your shoulder. With each breath, try to look a little bit further.
  3. Do you get back spasms while seated? You may be flattening your back against your chair, giving it an unnatural curve. When this curve occurs, the lower vertebrae take on more weight than they were designed for. To help take the strain off the vertebrae, different muscles will begin to over fire, causing pain. While sitting, reach the crown of your head up and maintain this position. Sitting on a Swiss Ball helps with this. Since no back support is provided the body is required to be in the correct posture.
  4. Do your legs or knees hurt while sitting? You may be sitting too long. While in a seated position the hamstrings are slightly contracted and the quadriceps are slightly stretched. This position can be taxing on the muscles if maintained over an extended time period. While sitting, stretch one leg out straight, placing the heel on the ground. Keeping the spine straight, lean forward and feel the stretch up the back of the leg. Also, try to stand up from your seat every so often to get the blood to flow back to your legs. Even just sitting down and standing up a few times will help loosen up your legs and back.

Why Am I So Prone to Ankle Injury?

A common injury to both athletes and non-athletes is an ankle sprain. This is usually caused by landed on an uneven surface which causes the ankle to twist, stretching or tearing the ligaments that hold the foot in place. The most common form of an ankle sprain is when the foot turns in, damaging the lateral (or side) ligaments. Medial ligament sprains are rare and usually occur with a fracture to the tibia caused by the foot turning out.

There are 3 grades of severity for ankle sprains:
Grade 1

  • Some stretching or minor tearing of the ankle ligaments most likely lateral
  • Mild pain
  • Mild swelling around the bone on the outside of the ankle
  • Some joint stiffness or difficulty walking or running

Grade 2

  • Moderate tearing of the ligament fibers
  • Moderate to severe pain and difficulty walking
  • Swelling and stiffness in ankle joint
  • Minor bruising

Grade 3

  • Total rupture of ligament
  • Complete instability of joint
  • Severe pain
  • Severe swelling
  • Extensive bruising

The recovery from a sprained ankle can be quick or can last months depending on the grade of sprain and your active involvement in rehabbing the injured area. Your best bet for assisting with a quick recovery time is to initially use R.I.C.E.

Rest the injury to reduce the risk of further injuring the ankle. Some therapists advocate partial weight-bearing as soon as tolerated to help rehabilitation time.

Ice will reduce the swelling and increase circulation to the injured area. Place ice on the ankle first thing following the injury for 15 min. Repeat this every 2 hours.

Compression will also assist with reducing swelling and bleeding.

Elevation uses gravity to help reduce bleeding and inflammation by allowing the blood to flaw away from the injured site.

The next step in recovery is to do rehab on your ankle working on stretching and strengthening those injured muscles, tendons and ligaments. The most important part of rehabilitation of an ankle injury is range of motion. Great exercises include making circles with your feet or spelling your ABC’s in capital letters with your feet. Make sure you have something close to you for balance and keep your core engaged. The calf muscle usually tightens following an ankle injury for protection so gentle stretching will aid in a faster recovery time. Make sure you stretch both the Gastrocnemius (large calf muscle) and the Soleus (smaller calf muscle that attaches below the knee).

Stretch should be felt throughout the whole calf muscle.

Stretch should be felt in the lower part of the leg closer to your heel.

Stability and core exercises are also an important aspect to the rehabilitation and strengthening of an ankle injury. Such devices as the Bosu and wobble boards place the ankle in a “controlled chaos” which trains the body how to react to situations that may damage the ankle. These tools will strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the ankle and should be incorporated into any exercise routine for someone who has suffered this kind of injury.

What ever grade ankle sprain you have; Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation are the first tools to a rapid recovery. After that a good rehab program involving range of motion and strengthening, perhaps utilizing a Bosu/wabble board, should be your second step. Ankle sprains can be a continuous problem and should be addressed sooner rather than later. If you would like more information on ankle rehab or strengthening please contact Thomas Eagen.

Yoga Pose of the Month: Natarajasana

Nata= actor, mime, dancer
Raja= king

This beautiful back bending pose is a classic, seen not only in many yoga styles, but also in classical India artwork. It is a pose dedicated to the god, Shiva, the Lord of the Dance and seen often in graphic depictions of him. You too can feel like a kingly dancer, or at least 10 times more energized when you do Dancer Pose correctly. Its many benefits include, stretching the chest, shoulders, quads, and abdomen. This pose strengthens your ankles, and whole leg, while honing your balance and focus skills.

Get into the Groove

  1. I know you are developing your yoga practice from not only reading this wonderful blog, but also by taking regular classes with our fantastic SAC teachers!! Right!! So, that said, please do some Surya A and B warm up before attempting this challenging backward bending pose.
  2. After warm up, come to the top of your mat and shift your weight onto the right foot. Bend right knee, and grasp the foot in a classic “runner’s” quad stretch pose. If you find it a struggle to easily grab your foot, please grab a towel or strap for the rest of the exercise.
  3. Allow your pelvic bone to drop and tilt forward, this will stretch the quad more deeply and prevent pinching your low back as you back bend. Hold this simple stretch for 5 breaths.
  4. Before going further, keep your pelvic bone dropped, AND lift your chest up to your chin. Then you can proceed into a backbend by leaning slightly forward, and kicking the weight of your foot into your hand and continuing to lengthen your foot and hand upward.
  5. If you feel any pinching, stop, grab a strap and use this excellent tool to ease into Dancer till your quads, pectoral’s and mid back are more open.
  6. GO SLOW. A lot of folks slam themselves into poses, and they are designed to be meditative, thoughtful and well, dancer like. If you find yourself rushing into Dancer or any pose, stop. Are you breathing? Are you struggling to go further than your muscles will allow at this time? Remember, yoga is NOT a competitive sport, but a wonderfully challenging way to integrate breath and body to enhance a healthy mind and body.
    Stay in Dancer about 10 breaths, then switch.

Counter Poses/Modifications
Forward bending with slightly bent knees, or “soft” knees, or a supine twist are great counter poses to Dancer. Also, if you are still feeling vibrant, a headstand or one leg stretched forward, balance ( Eka Pada Hasta Padagustasana) are excellent ways to balance Dancer. If you need to modify, grab a strap and lasso your lifted foot with it. Also, standing near a wall and using it for support is a great way to train yourself to balance. You can also do this pose with a buddy, who can hold you. As always, all poses are best learned under the guidance of a certified yoga teacher. We have so many excellent teachers at SAC to choose from. You can always talk to me in one of my classes, Mondays and Tuesdays.

Tonja Renee Hall
Is a yoga instructor at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown, and for professional sports teams. She uses her 10 years teaching experience here, internationally and in many disciplines of dance, cycling sports, and equestrian sports to inform her teaching. She uses humor and discipline to encourage her students to reach for their personal best. To schedule a private yoga lesson, please refer to her website tonjareneehall.com or contact Anna Miller, Group Fitness Director at Seattle Athletic Club Downtown. Her favorite color right now is orange, and she can’t get enough of this sun!!!

What is Sciatica?

Sciatica is a set of symptoms including pain that may be caused by general compression and/or irritation of one of five nerve roots that give rise to the sciatic nerve or by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve itself.

Generally speaking it is pain in the lower back, glutes, leg and foot. The pain may be in one of those places or all of them and can be mild or very severe. Someone with Sciatica may also feel numbness, and may experience muscular weakness causing difficulty moving or controlling the leg. Typically the symptoms are on one side of the body.

Although sciatica is a relatively common form of low back pain and leg pain, the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the root of the nerve, causing the pain. This point is important, because treatment for sciatica or sciatic symptoms will often be different, depending upon the underlying cause of the symptoms.

What are the causes of Sciatica?
The number one cause of Sciatica is a disc herniation – A condition where two vertebrae’s are compressed together forcing the jelly like cushioning to bulge out from in between the vertebrae’s. There are others causes though, such as:

  • Spinal Stenosis – A condition due to narrowing of the spinal cord causing nerve pinching which leads to persistent pain in the buttocks, limping, lack of feeling in the lower extremities, and decreased physical activity.
  • Spondylolisthesis refers to the forward slip of a vertebra over the one beneath. There is different grades of this, which explains why some people don’t have pain with this condition.
  • Pregnancy – Weight gain, uterus growth, ligaments and joints relaxing due to hormonal changes, cause shift in the pelvis, which can in turn cause compression on the sciatic nerve.
  • Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Dysfunction – SI Joint becomes inflamed; the portion of the sciatic nerve running in front of the joint will become irritated.
  • Piriformis Syndrome – is a condition due to an over active Piriformis causing compression on the Sciatic nerve.
  • Daily Habits and Activity – Daily activities can cause overuse of the Piriformis muscle or place more stress on the joints, which can cause added compression or irritation to the sciatic nerve.

Can sciatica be cured?
There is no cure for sciatica. You can relieve the symptoms to the point you don’t have any more pain or discomfort though a series of stretching and exercises. However, these symptoms may come back depending on the cause of sciatica. The best thing to do is, once the symptoms are relieved continue with the stretching exercises prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. This will help in future prevention of the symptoms of sciatica to come back.

What can I do to relieve the symptoms?
Depending on what is causing sciatica depends on the treatment. There are many different forms of treatment that your doctor will prescribe to you depending on the cause of sciatica. Below are different approaches that may help to relieve symptoms. In most cases many of these will help. Always ask your doctor before beginning any form of treatment though.

Below is a list of treatments and description of each, try the least evasive forms of treatment first.

  • Stretching Exercises – Though a series of stretches for the hips and back you may relieve the symptoms of sciatica. This will help to relax the over active muscles compressing on the sciatic nerve.
  • Physical Therapy – Will rehabilitate the herniated disc or the over active muscles as well as give you a program to follow to prevent recurrent flare-ups and compression on the sciatic nerve. This program will help you to strengthen the muscles supporting your back, stretch the over active muscles, and improve the posture, which can cause the compression on the nerve roots.
  • Massage Therapy – Massage therapy along with trigger point therapy is a great way to help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica by getting the muscles around the area to relax releasing the compression on the nerves.

If these forms of treatment do not relieve the sciatica symptoms, then trying these more aggressive forms of treatment.

  • Non-Surgical spinal decompression – this technique is great for those with herniated or bulging disc that are causing the sciatic symptoms. It gently separates the vertebrae from each other, creating a vacuum inside the discs that we are targeting. This moves the herniated or bulging disc into the inside of the disc, off the nerve root. Eliminating the symptoms of sciatica.
  • Medications – you may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce the inflammation of the muscles that are creating sciatica along with a muscle relaxer to allow the muscle to relax. If you have a lot of pain a pain killer (narcotic) may be used for short term relief. In some instances your doctor may inject a corticosteroid medication into the affected area to help relieve pain.
  • Surgery – in some severe cases, this is an option when the compression is causing excessive weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, and when the pain is progressively getting worse, even following all other treatment options.

What are some Exercises and Stretches I can do at home?

  • Low Back Stretch – Start by lying on your back pulling one or both knees to your chest holding for 30 seconds
  • Lumbar Rotation – Lie on your back with both knees bent, hands and arms making a “T” shape, drop your knees to the side, keeping your feet flat on the ground the whole time. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – Start by kneeling on the floor, place left foot in front creating a 90degree angle. Press hips forward while engaging the left glute to help the left hip flexor relax. Hold 30 seconds and repeat on the right side.
  • Piriformis Stretch – Lie on your back cross the left knee over the right, raising the knees and pulling across the midline of the body. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  • Lat Stretch – Start by sitting on your heels. Keeping the hips on the heels, walk the hands out in front stretching though the back only as far as out as you can go while maintaining hips on heels. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Marching – Start by lying on your back, placing your heels on the floor at a 90degree angle from your hips. Holding that angle as if in a cast, raise your knee up slightly past perpendicular to your hips maintaining that 90degree angle, lower and repeat 10-15 reps.
  • Clam Shells – Start by lying on your side in a fetal position, knees bent to almost 90degrees. Roll your hips forward so that the top hip and knee is slightly in front of your bottom hip and knee. With out rocking your hips backward and keeping your heels together, raise your top knee only as far up as you can with out changing the position of your hips.
  • Quadruped – Start out on your hands and knees by placing your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Raise your left leg straight back pushing your heel toward the wall, while raising your right arm straight out keeping it as close to the ear as possible. Hold this for 5 seconds, lower and repeat on the other side, 8-12 reps on each side.
  • Swimming – Start by lying on your stomach placing hands out in front of you. Raise your left leg and right arm, and lifting chest off the ground, keeping the neck in neutral position, hold for 3 seconds, lower and repeat on the other side, 8-12 reps on each side. REMEMBER do not jerk your body into position only as far as you can controllably raise your chest, arm, and leg.
  • Bridge – Start by lying on your back, knees bent at a 90degree angle, feet flat on the ground. Squeeze the glute muscles, keeping the abs engaged, lift the hips up off the ground. Hold for 5 seconds, lower and repeat for 10-15 reps.
  • Pelvic Tilts – Start by lying on your back, knees bent at a 90 degree angle, feet flat on the ground. Place your hands on your hips and tilt hips forward, (think about taking your hip bones and moving them to touch your leg bones). It is important to remember to not use your back muscles to create an arch in your bag, but instead using your deep core muscles to move your hips. Then tilt your hips backward (think about taking your hip bones and moving them to touch your rib cage.) It is important again to remember to use your deep core muscles to move your hips rather then squeezing your glutes to move your hips.

For a more detailed view of the Sciatic Nerve see the below pictures.


A couple of years ago I injured my back while training for a marathon. Initially I thought rest and ice would take care of it – it didn’t. I tried going to a chiropractor with no relief. Eventually, my doctor sent me to physical therapy where I received ultrasound treatments and was taught various stretching and strengthening exercises. The PT provided some relief, but I was still frustrated at my lack of progress as I had a nearly constant nagging pain, especially when I sat for long periods.

I spent a lot of time self-diagnosing. An article in a running magazine suggested that one common cause of lower back pain in runners was an injury to the piriformus muscle in the lower back and buttocks. It quite literally is described as a “pain in the butt.” I decided this must be it. At the end of 2009, I started working with Katrina Yniguez at SAC. I explained to her my desire to get back to running, and my belief that my piriformus was causing my back pain.

Katrina conducted an assessment of my biomechanics and immediately prescribed some corrective exercises for my leg and back muscles. She also started me foam-rolling (deep tissue massage) my piriformus muscle and other muscle groups. At first I thought she was crazy as the exercises she had me doing were very easy and seemingly unrelated to my back. Katrina explained, however, that strengthening these muscle groups would improve my biomechanics and ultimately reduce the risk for future injury. I persisted.

Eventually, Katrina stopped being crazy and started being just plain mean. Although always pleasant and upbeat, she had obviously decided at some point that the corrective exercises were not needed anymore, and it was time to start the hard stuff. Now, twice a week, she puts me through my paces with core-focused exercises that primarily work my back, legs and chest. I never look forward to the tough workouts, but I always am glad that I did them after they are through. The good news? My back pain is almost completely gone and, when it occasionally returns, I know exactly what to do to get rid of it. I’m now back to regular running, pain-free.

I appreciate Katrina’s ability to listen to what I thought was happening to my body and to design a program that would target the needed areas. It has been great working with her. She is great to work with an always has a positive attitude, and I’ve discovered she’s not really that mean (well, she kind of is).

Matthew D. Latimer

If you would like to begin developing a training program to assist with your specific situation, please contact Katrina Yniguez.

Debunking Pilates Myths

It’s expensive
A one-on-one session is a great way to start your Pilates training, but when you learn your routine, you can work out with a partner or small group to cut costs.

It’s only for women
Joseph Pilates was a man, and he created a system of exercise meant for every body, male or female. Pilates requires concentration, focus, coordination and agility.

It’s repetitive
Pilates builds a foundation of core strength, and that requires some deep, precise, consistent work. Only after your core is established and muscles correctly firing can you move on to the more complicated, advanced Pilates exercises. So yes, Pilates can seem repetitive in the beginning. But be patient! Your repertoire will expand as you become stronger and are able to demonstrate control in your body.

It’s only for dancers
Joseph Pilates was not a dancer; he was a boxer and wrestler, studied yoga and gymnastics. When Joseph and his wife Clara set up shop in New York City, George Balanchine sent many dancers to Pilates to rehabilitate their ballet injuries. The news of a workout that promoted strength with stretch spread quickly through the dance community, and has been popular ever since. However, Pilates is beneficial for all populations.

It’s easy
Pilates can be modified to accommodate nearly any injury, but true Pilates, once the basic concepts are understood, is challenging to the most fit person.

Downward Facing Dog


Let’s all breathe in together… and sigh out a big exhale and relax. Usually that’s the sound made when coming into your first Downward Dog of the day. Of course if your hamstrings and hips or shoulders are tight, you’ll let out a few grunts, but like most forward bends, the function of relaxation and total body stretching out ways the groans.

Downward Dog is an extremely popular pose in most Yoga sequences. Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, Power, Anusara, Hot Vinyasa all use this excellent pose to warm the big muscle groups and strengthen the arms and shoulders for the rigors of a more strength building practice. Downward Dog focuses on stretching the shoulders, mid back, hamstrings, calves, arches of the feet, hips and hands. The “yoga buzz” you might feel at the end of class, when mind, body and breath are in alignment are often directly related to downward dog. Yoga Therapists have known for along time the benefits of forward bending and stretching to calm the mind, ease mild depression and anxiety.

Ok, let’s examine this pose more closely and practice.

  1. Set your mat, and come to hands and knees (Cat/Cow) from there tuck your toes under, ground the palms and first finger and thumb toward the floor and come to Downward Dog. Set your feet hip width apart and lift up on your tipy toes. Once on your toes, you’ll take the pressure off your hamstrings so you can roll your shoulders back, straighten your spine, lift your sit bones to the ceiling.
  2. As you’re lifting everything up, LENGTHEN, your heels to the floor, without rounding back and shoulders. Remember when you were in eight grade, chewing gum, if you clenched 1/2 the gum in your teeth and pulled the other half out like string, THAT’S lengthening. If your shoulders hunch, put a bend in your knees, grind your palms more firmly and press your chest closer to your legs.
  3. While holding Downward Dog for 5-10 breaths, engage your core and lift your kneecaps, keep micro adjusting shoulders and lengthening. Rest, by coming down to Child’s pose or Cat/Cow.


  • If you have shoulder, wrist or acute hamstring, eye injury, please do yourself a favor and HEAL before coming into a full on Downward Dog. You can get the benefits of a hamstring stretch by lying on your back, and strapping up a lifted leg and gently pulling it toward you. Go slow.
  • If you can’t yet comfortably ground your palms, grab two blocks as support props under your hands and come into the pose. You can also use a strap around your upper arms for more stability if your elbows poke out.
  • Like any yoga pose or practice, please consult your instructor before continuing if you have an injury or contraindication. I work with a lot of athletes, and often they work with incredible pain to stay on the field. Coaches have different theories on this, but my feeling, as a Yoga Coach is if you are in acute pain, stop and examine what’s going on. I like to push people to there limit, not drive them into pain.

    That being said, enjoy. Downward Facing Dog is one of my favorite poses and this combined with stretching hips, neck and a slight back bend, and sitting in silence for 5 minutes, can be your whole practice routine to re focus and energize your body daily.

    Pilates and Pregnancy

    Most women wonder if Pilates is recommended during a pregnancy, and fortunately the answer in most situations is yes! Pilates is a great way to tone abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, which can support an ever-changing pregnant body. Also, Pilates is very adaptable. Most Pilates exercises can be modified as your body and abilities change. The modifications keep the original goal of the exercise, while altering the form to work for your body. Exercise during pregnancy may support an easier labor, a speedy recovery postpartum, a quicker return to your pre-pregnancy weight, not to mention a comfortable pregnancy.

    Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few basic guidelines to follow before you jump right in.

    First, and most importantly, if you have never done Pilates before and just found out you are pregnant; this is not the time to start. Wait until the birth, and then find a qualified Pilates instructor to lead you through the exercises. Generally this will be about four to six weeks postpartum for a vaginal birth and six to eight weeks for a surgical birth.

    Second, as with any exercise routine, check with your doctor. Inquire about your limitations during pregnancy, especially during unique circumstances.

    Third, exercise moderately. Most experts recommend not letting your heart rate get above 140 beats per minute. If you do not own a heart rate monitor, use the “talk test”. If you are too winded to talk in a normal fashion, it is time to slow down. Other signs that you need to take a break are dizziness, feeling faint, and nausea. Headache, shortness of breath, a racing heart, uterine contractions, and bleeding or leaking fluid are also signs to stop and see your physician.

    Fourth, do not over stretch. Hormones, like relaxin, soften the ligaments in your body to allow your joints to spread for the birth of your baby. Consequently, women do experience more strains in their bodies during this time. You will want to be sure not to overstretch. Working in a smaller range of motion, avoiding bouncing exercises, and strengthening the muscles around your hips and spine will help you avoid the pain of strains.

    Fifth, stay off your back. In the second trimester it is time to stop doing exercises while lying flat on your back. Your uterus has grown out of your pelvis and can press down on the major vein in your torso. This reduces the amount of oxygenated blood flow to your baby, and causes most women to be dizzy or light-headed.

    All in all, pregnancy could be a very rewarding time to tune inward and connect with the principles of Pilates: centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow. Consistently working with these philosophies may enhance your workout experience and offer skills to bring to the birth and care of your baby.

    If you are an expecting mother and would like to begin a Pilates program during your pregnancy, please contact Danielle.

    Pilates Exercise of the Month: Roll-Over

    Purpose: To stretch the lower back and hamstrings; develop spinal articulation and improve control of the abdominal muscles.

    Note: if you have a bad neck or lower back, leave this exercise out.

    1. Lie on the mat with arms by your sides; palms down. Lift both legs to a 60 degree angle from the mat.
    2. Inhale, lift the legs to a 90-degree angle. Initiate from the abdominals; bring your legs over your head peeling your spine off the mat. Keep reaching the arms long, shoulders pinned down. Don’t press onto your neck.
    3. Exhale and open your legs just past shoulder width and flex your feet. Keep the back of your neck long, avoid any tensing or crunching in the front of the neck. The arms continue to press into the mat. Your body weight should rest squarely in between your shoulder blades.
    4. Begin rolling back toward the mat, feel your spine stretching longer and longer as you articulate down until the tailbone touches the mat.
    5. When the tailbone reaches the mat, take the legs to just below 90 degrees and squeeze your legs together again. Repeat the sequence.
    6. Complete 3 repetitions with legs together when lifting and 3 times with legs apart.

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